The word of God is dynamite in our lives once we start dealing with issues warping and injuring our hearts. If we are to truly live a life where our words have a positive impact, we must address the source of our words: our hearts. King Solomon wrote, “Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it” (Proverbs 4:23 NIV). Our hearts need to be continuously guarded—it is a prime area of battle in our lives. The devil wants to harm and twist our hearts, altering the way we talk, turning us away from God.
Throughout the Bible, God uses images to illustrate points for us. One of His favorite images was a tree.
Blessed is the man
Who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly,
Nor stands in the path of sinners,
Nor sits in the seat of the scornful;
But his delight is in the law of the Lord,
And in His law he meditates day and night.
He shall be like a tree
Planted by the rivers of water,
That brings forth its fruit in its season,
Whose leaf also shall not wither;
And whatever he does shall prosper (Psalm 1:1-3).
“To console those who mourn in Zion,
To give them beauty for ashes,
The oil of joy for mourning,
The garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness;
That they may be called trees of righteousness,
The planting of the Lord, that He may be glorified” (Isaiah 61:3).
In His teaching about the human heart, and its fragile nature, Jesus used a tree as well—the Sycamine Tree—as an analogy of the issues, sins, and hurts we have to deal with to be healthy disciples and to ultimately see miracles.
Then He said to the disciples, “It is impossible that no offenses should come, but woe to him through whom they do come! It would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck, and he were thrown into the sea, than that he should offend one of these little ones. Take heed to yourselves. If your brother sins against you, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him. And if he sins against you seven times in a day, and seven times in a day returns to you, saying, ‘I repent,’ you shall forgive him.”
And the apostles said unto the Lord, “Increase our faith.” And the Lord said, “If ye had faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye might say unto this sycamine tree, ‘Be thou plucked up by the root, and be thou planted in the sea’; and it should obey you. But which of you, having a servant plowing or feeding cattle, will say unto him by and by, when he is come from the field, ‘Go and sit down to meat?’ And will not rather say unto him, Make ready wherewith I may sup, and gird thyself, and serve me, till I have eaten and drunken; and afterward thou shalt eat and drink? Doth he thank that servant because he did the things that were commanded him? I trow not. So likewise ye, when ye shall have done all those things which are commanded you, say, ‘We are unprofitable servants: we have done that which was our duty to do’” (Luke 17:1-10 KJV).
Jesus started his teaching by discussing offenses and their part in our lives. We cannot avoid offenses—but we can live without them warping and destroying our lives. The word Jesus used for “offense” is the Greek word “scandalon,” which means “bait, a snare, a trap.” Our hearts are fragile, so daily, we are to guard against the scandalon laid out for us, so we don’t take the bait and fall into the trap of anger, bitterness, rage, and revenge. When someone offends us, a trap is set, and we will fall into it if we take the bait. And what offends us will eventually come out in our vocabulary, revealing the actual condition of our heart. As Jesus said:
“Either make the tree good and its fruit good, or else make the tree bad and its fruit bad; for a tree is known by its fruit. Brood of vipers! How can you, being evil, speak good things? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. A good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth good things, and an evil man out of the evil treasure brings forth evil things. But I say to you that for every idle word men may speak, they will give account of it in the day of judgment. For by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned” (Matthew 12:33-37).
Our culture is in crisis—a crisis of offense. Everyone is offended by everyone else, and the bitterness is poisoning our souls, our families, our communities, our country. We need to step up as children of God, remove offense and pain from our hearts, stay out of the trap of the enemy, and help our culture through the power of forgiveness—the antidote to bitterness, prescribed by the Great Healer Himself in Matthew 12. Jesus commands us to forgive over and over again. No matter how many times we are offended or hurt, we have to forgive. The disciples responded by asking for more faith. It is incredible they never asked for more faith when Jesus raised the dead, or opened blind eyes, or healed the lepers. But they were taken aback when He said to keep forgiving people. Maybe you feel this way. People do heinous, egregious things at times. Forgiveness might feel impossible. We might feel like the disciples: we need more faith from God to forgive people that hurt us.
But we don’t need more faith. We need to use the faith that we have. Jesus revealed we have all been given God’s grace, by the deposit of faith in their hearts, to live a forgiving life. Jesus said all we need is a little bit of faith to do something great, like forgiving offenses. We only need a mustard seed of faith because it is not the size of our faith, but the size of God who moves mountains of unforgiveness and pain in our lives. If we give God a little faith, He will do great things for us.
I love that Jesus picked the mustard seed, this tiny little seed, to illustrated faith. It means living a life of faith that moves mountains and living free from offense, is possible for everyone. “So Jesus answered and said to them, ‘Have faith in God. For assuredly, I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, ‘Be removed and be cast into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that those things he says will be done, he will have whatever he says. Therefore I say to you, whatever things you ask when you pray, believe that you receive them, and you will have them’” (Mark 11:21-24). We can exercise our faith to forgive and be free of the damaging impact of offense, and it’s an outgrowth: the Sycamine tree in our life.
In Luke 17, the Sycamine is presented as a different type of mountain or obstacle, keeping us from living full, miracle-filled lives. The faith He has given us can be used to remove the destructive Sycamine tree(s) which grow out of offenses. The disciples understood the illustration of the Sycamine tree–they saw them every day. To them, the Sycamine tree…
- was a common tree at that time in the Middle East
- had a vast and deep root structure and grew to over 30 feet high
- was a difficult tree to kill
- was impacted very little by hot weather
- could withstand cuts into its base which would usually kill a tree due to the deep root structure
- was a preferred wood for building caskets and coffins
- grew quickly in nearly any environment
- grew best in dry, desert places
- had bitter fruit, which looked luscious like the Mulberry tree fruit, but was horribly bitter to eat. The rich would buy and eat Mulberry tree fruit, but the poor would be forced to eat the bitter sycamine tree fruit
- was pollinated by wasps when it would stick its stinger into the heart of the fruit
The list of the Sycamine Tree traits gives us plenty to think about in regard to offenses and their fruit in our lives. For now, here are three points to Jesus’ teaching we need to focus on:
1. SYCAMINE TREES ARE NOT HARD TO SPOT, THEY STICK OUT, AND THEIR FRUIT IS BITTER.
Sycamine tree fruit looks excellent but is very sour because wasps, not bees pollinate it. The wasp is symbolic of the devil and his pollination of the bitter and evil places in our lives. We can chase the harmful wasps away, but as long as the Sycamine tree in our lives keeps blossoming, we will keep attracting the wasps. We have to deal with the junk so he can’t come back anymore.
This can be done only by acting on the word of God and not on our pain. Sometimes acting out when we are offended feels good, but it is bitter. The writer of Hebrews warns us to deal swiftly with bitterness when he wrote: “looking carefully lest anyone fall short of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up cause trouble, and by this many become defiled” (Hebrews 12:15). When we act on bitterness, we eat the fruit and keep the tree alive, allowing the devil to continue his work in our lives. If we keep eating the fruit, we corrupt our souls. We are what we eat. If we feed on bitterness and unforgiveness, we are sustaining emotional poverty.
The root of bitterness doesn’t happen overnight. Any unhealed hurt in our lives will grow until it becomes a cancer of bitterness, resentment, hatred, or some other negative emotions. Time doesn’t heal wounds: Jesus does. We can’t afford to let an old injury metastasize into bad fruit that will kill us and others emotionally and spiritually. We can’t empower the devil by allowing darkness to stay in our lives and grow. It’s incredible the things that develop when we are not paying attention. Have you ever noticed that no one has to grow weeds in their yard? They germinate and sprout up on their own. They always grow where we don’t want them to be. They force our hands and make us deal with them.
The same holds in our hearts. The weeds that are choking out the life of the Spirit of God need to be dealt with—and they are apparent. They make themselves known. Discovering the Sycamine trees in our lives is not hard. We need to look for areas where we get offended. When we are angry, it is a chance for God to show us what needs to come out of our hearts. The offense is a sign that the area of the heart is broken, and a Sycamine tree has taken root. It is impacting our marriages, our health, our relationships with our children, our work interactions, and so on.
It can seem daunting when we look around and see all the Sycamines inside us. However, here’s the great promise: we can remove them. If we take the word of God and use it to rip out and replace the Sycamine trees, our lives will be filled with love and joy and peace.
2. WHAT WE DON’T UPROOT WILL KILL US SPIRITUALLY, EMOTIONALLY, MENTALLY, AND RELATIONALLY.
The Sycamine tree wood was the preferred wood for building caskets and coffins. The wood was dry and could withstand any condition. Let this image sink in for a moment. The Sycamine tree represents unhealthy attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors in our life that could be the material used to bury us. The sin patterns we don’t eradicate will kill us.
The New Testament is full of Paul’s lists regarding unGodly actions or fruit. Let’s focus on Colossians 3, where Paul writes:
If then you were raised with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God. Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth. For you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is our life appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory.
Therefore put to death your members which are on the earth: fornication, uncleanness, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. Because of these things the wrath of God is coming upon the sons of disobedience, in which you yourselves once walked when you lived in them.
But now you yourselves are to put off all these: anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, filthy language out of your mouth. Do not lie to one another, since you have put off the old man with his deeds, and have put on the new man who is renewed in knowledge according to the image of Him who created him, where there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcised nor uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave nor free, but Christ is all and in all” (1-11).
Notice the issues we are called to “put to death”: “fornication, uncleanness, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry.” He goes on to add “anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, filthy language out of your mouth.” We have to put those things to death, or they will destroy us. They will keep us out of the blessings of God. They will keep us separated from Him. Jesus said we could remove those things by speaking right to them. We can take the word of God and replace that old root system that produces anger, evil desires, malice, and the other sins with the new one.
Therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, put on tender mercies, kindness, humility, meekness, longsuffering; bearing with one another, and forgiving one another, if anyone has a complaint against another; even as Christ forgave you, so you also must do. But above all these things put on love, which is the bond of perfection. And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to which also you were called in one body; and be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord. And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him (Colossians 3:12-17).
3. DON’T CHOP THE TREE DOWN, UPROOT IT.
First off, notice He didn’t say we were to cut the tree down. Sycamines can withstand deep cuts to their base. No, He said we are to uproot it. If we use our faith, believe in God, the Sycamine trees with their complex root systems in our hearts, the habits and sins that are difficult to kill and hard to eradicate, would be uprooted and thrown into the sea. We can rip the thought patterns out of our lives, which makes it challenging to stay unoffended and forgiving.
Our minds are an intricate web of neural pathways. They look like the root system of Sycamine tree. These pathways are made up of thoughts and thought patterns. They control what we say and what we do. We know through modern research this fantastic fact: our minds are moldable. The concept of neural plasticity shows us what God has always taught us: we can change the way we think by using our words to form new thought pathways and patterns. When we take the word of God, put it in our mouths, and speak it over our lives, we can create new thoughts that drive further actions and words. When we speak out verses like the one below, we are changing the way we think.
Oh, give thanks to the Lord, for He is good!
For His mercy endures forever.
Let the redeemed of the Lord say so,
Whom He has redeemed from the hand of the enemy,
And gathered out of the lands,
From the east and from the west,
From the north and from the south
I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God (Romans 12:1-2).
We can change the whole root system of our minds by planting new thoughts with new words. We can go from hopelessness to hope; we can go from sadness to joy. The devil wants us to believe we can’t change that people stay the same. But this is a lie.
Anyone can change. Modern psychology shows us the reality of change is possible through cognitive behavioral therapy. According to the American Psychiatric Association:
- Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is a form of psychological treatment that has been demonstrated to be useful for a range of problems including depression, anxiety disorders, alcohol and drug use issues, marital issues, eating disorders and severe mental illness. Numerous research studies suggest that CBT leads to significant improvement in functioning and quality of life. In many studies, CBT has been demonstrated to be as effective as or more effective than other forms of psychological therapy or psychiatric medications. …
- CBT is based on several core principles, including:
- Psychological problems are based, in part, on faulty or unhelpful ways of thinking and learned patterns of unhelpful behavior.
- People suffering from psychological problems can learn better ways of coping with them, thereby relieving their symptoms and becoming more effective in their lives.
- CBT treatment usually involves efforts to change thinking patterns. These strategies might include:
- Learning to recognize one’s distortions in thinking that are creating problems and then to reevaluate them in light of reality.
- Gaining a better understanding of the behavior and motivation of others.
- Using problem-solving skills to cope with difficult situations.
- Learning to develop a greater sense of confidence in one’s own abilities.1
The Bible calls this process “renewing your mind.” We can change our world through our thoughts and our words. Jesus wants us to be aggressive farmers concerning unhealthy thought patterns cropping up in our minds. We can uproot family patterns of divorce and mental health issues. It doesn’t matter how many womanizing men are in your family; you can conquer that root system. It doesn’t matter how many women are depressed in your family; you can pull that tree up by the roots when you speak to it the word of God.
We can deal with the root systems which have taken over our hearts and keep us from living fruitful lives for God. We spend a lot of time on our actions and words. God spends a lot of time on the root systems which produce the actions and words. He goes to work ripping out bitterness and unforgiveness which produce nasty fruit similar to the Sycamine tree fruit. We need to adjust our focus and start using our faith and words to help Him clean out the bitterness, hate, unforgiveness, greed, lust, and envy, which have taken root in our hearts. He wants us to use His word as shovels to dig out the roots and replace the old root system with His new, life-giving root system.
How? When the Bible says we are to “love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you” (Matthew 5:44), Jesus is showing us how to use our words to pull up unhealthy attitudes and allow God’s fruit to take root in our hearts.
We can uproot systems that we learned in school or from friends or from those that injured us. Jesus said we are to confront those thoughts with His thoughts. “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Romans 12:21).